The Shelley Arms, Broadbridge Heath, Thursday, March 14
Pop-punk parodies, a wise-cracking van driver and a Swiss lady obsessed with punctuality – Heat 2 of the Sussex Comedian of the Year offers a real mix.
However, as diverse as the line-up is this evening, the quality of comedy remains consistent, rising to a high level during the first act and staying there for the whole two hours.
First on stage, before the contestants, is self-confessed ‘old hippy’ Dave Thompson, our MC for the night. He gets a good response with his jokes about the square function room’s ‘feng shui’ properties, as well as his struggle to appeal to comedy fans under 30. Fear not youngsters, Dave has a toy bunny at the ready.
He strikes a nice balance between silly observations, amusing one-liners and fun conversations with audience members, returning throughout the evening to introduce each contestant as “one of the six best comedians working in Broadbridge Heath tonight”.
First up in the actual competition is the young, long-haired and well-spoken Olley Matthews, who is immediately likeable thanks to his witty acoustic guitar numbers. He plays confidently, offering a spot-on pastiche and deconstruction of a Green Day-esque tune. It’s probably the most memorable part of his set but Olley also has some good non-musical gags. One favourite is his ideas for TV crossovers (Bake Off meets The Apprentice anyone?), another is his anecdote about an ultimately infuriating encounter with a young child while busking.
Next up is David Eagle, a blind comedian with a fondness for (appropriately) ‘dark humour’, which he delivers in a slightly gruff, but rather reassuring northern accent. Many of his jokes are in pretty bad-taste – including ones about a guide dog – but they’re undeniably funny and David aims enough of the humour at himself to be completely disarming.
After the first break, we’re treated to a bizarrely brilliant set from the offbeat Swiss comedian Fran Kissling. From the opening 30 seconds, in which Fran fumbles about with her microphone while glaring at the audience, it’s clear we’re in for something very different. She remains stone faced throughout the entire set, playing it completely seriously as she makes loud statements about the Swiss culture and mindset. Apparently, Swiss comedy is mainly about turning up on time and the Swiss people pride themselves on getting up early enough to steal German people’s sun beds.
Fran also plays some wonderfully joyless ‘games’ with the audience, getting big laughs by assigning people a series of pointless tasks. Her set is a perfect contrast to the more conventional comedy on offer this evening. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and it may not be the funniest act around, but Fran certainly wins points for how daring her style is.
Afterwards, van-driver-by-day Graeme Collard returns us to normality with his observations about his job, art college and online banking. Fran’s a tough act to follow but Graeme’s gags work well by being so relatable. It’s not all straight forward laughs though. Graeme’s comedy is particularly well-structured and he throws in some pretty cleverly phrased lines that bump his material up another notch.
The fifth stand-up, Nathan Ramsden-Lock, is arguably the second most offbeat act of the night. He’s not overtly odd, but the way Nathan delivers his deliberately corny one-liners – interrupted only by a couple of sight gags and a song about jacket potatoes – comes across as very strange indeed. With this kind of material, his goal doesn’t seem to be gales of laughter, but more a steady stream of groans, like the reaction you’d get from reading 20 Christmas cracker jokes in a row.
His self-aware commitment to this style is amusing in its own way but it creates a peculiar kind of energy in the room.
The final act, Tom Smith, may not have the tightly structured material of the others tonight – which may actually cost him a few points when it comes to writing – but he’s just naturally very funny. His audience interactions work beautifully and he’s comfortable just spontaneously creating laughter from conversations. Tom does have some pre-written material about living with dyspraxia and having an unoriginal name, but he seems to be at his best in the unplanned moments.
A great act to finish with seeing as the pub-goers are now suitably loosened up.
It’s hard to guess who’s won at this point and, as guest judge Julian Hall explains, picking the winner is tough in a heat where the quality of the acts is so high.
But, after careful deliberation with the other judges, the winner is revealed to be David Eagle, with the ‘wildcard’ choices being Olley Matthews and Graeme Collard.
As everyone heads home, there’s a sense of excitement for what’s in store next and I’m sure the two-month wait will be worth it.
Heat 3 of the Sussex Comedian of the Year competition comes to The George and Dragon Pub, Shipley, on Thursday, May 16.
The Sussex Comedian of the Year has been organised by comedy experts Barnstormers and talent agency Andromeda Talent. It has received a grant from the Horsham District Year of Culture 2019 fund and sponsorship from district based business Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors, who are proud to be part of the Horsham District Year of Culture.
Click here to find out more.
Click here to read our review of Heat 1.
Easter holiday fun for kids at Squire’s Garden Centres. Click here to find out more.